You can have the tour bus, I’m tak­ing the gold discs

Break­ing up is hard to do, but so is stay­ing in a re­la­tion­ship when you and your other half have just spent six months tour­ing to­gether. Cian Traynor on the highs and lows of noodling and canoodling

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

AF­TER 13 YEARS to­gether, the White Stripes still har­bour one great taboo: their for­mer mar­riage. The duo have al­ways courted an enig­matic im­age and a new be­hind-the-scenes doc­u­men­tary, Un­der Great White North­ern Lights, does lit­tle to il­lu­mi­nate it – the film’s press release even refers to Meg as Jack’s “big sis­ter”. The truth is that Jack adopted her sur­name when they mar­ried in 1996, and de­spite separat­ing be­fore the release of their de­but al­bum, they car­ried on and pre­tended to be sib­lings in­stead. But where The White Stripes re­main eva­sive, oth­ers are will­ing to ex­plain the com­plex­i­ties of be­ing a cou­ple within a band.

Mariam Wal­lentin is about to re­veal a se­cret. The singer from Swedish duo Wild­birds & Peace­drums usu­ally evades ques­tions about her re­la­tion­ship with her band­mate and hus­band, but is will­ing to elab­o­rate on how whirl­wind tour­ing has forced the pair to plan time apart.

“If we’re go­ing on a two-month tour then we’re like, ‘is this a good idea? Maybe we need a break in be­tween. Maybe I need to go away’,” says Wal­lentin. “Some­times it’s funny be­cause the pro­moter will book sep­a­rate rooms for us and we’re like, ‘Yay!’ And then you think, ‘My God, we have a fucked-up re­la­tion­ship’. But in one way it’s not fucked up, it’s just dif­fer­ent.”

The dy­namic be­tween ro­man­ti­cally in­volved band­mates has in­spired some of mu­sic’s most pop­u­lar re­leases. ABBA’s The Win­ner Takes It All and Know­ing Me, Know­ing You are the sounds of es­tranged lovers as­sess­ing the wreck­age of their re­la­tion­ship, with Björn not­ing in hind­sight that “we sold more records af­ter the divorces”.

Fleet­wood Mac’s Lind­sey Buck­ing­ham cred­ited the suc­cess of Ru­mours –a con­ver­gence of in­ter-band break-ups and af­fairs – to audiences “in­vest­ing in us as peo­ple and re­al­is­ing that this mu­sic was ac­tu­ally cross-di­a­logue to each other”.

But split­ting up doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily re­quire a swan­song. Eury­th­mics’s Dave Ste­wart and An­nie Len­nox ended their re­la­tion­ship just be­fore sign­ing a record deal, while The Swell Sea­son’s Markéta Ir­glová and Glen Hansard went from friends to lovers and back again. Yet from the Hand­some Fam­ily to the Hand­some Furs, few mu­si­cal ro­mances have en­dured the in­evitable strains. So how do you make it work?

Soon af­ter Martina Sor­bara and Dan Kurtz be­gan an af­fair, they de­cided to get mar­ried and merge their mu­sic ca­reers. To­gether they’re one half of Dragonette, a Cana­dian pop group who can count Björk and Kanye West among their fans. Bound­aries are es­sen­tial, Sor­bara be­lieves. Don’t com­mu­ni­cate with your lover through lyrics. Don’t men­tion the up­com­ing tour while in bed. Don’t make band­mates feel like their par­ents are fight­ing. And no Black­ber­ries at din­ner.

“We just came off the road and had an emo­tional re­la­tion­ship break­down,” says a timid-sound­ing down Sor­bara down a phone line from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. “All of a sud­den, you look at each other and re­alise, ‘I haven’t acted to­wards you like you’re my hus­band in months. You’ve just been my busi­ness part­ner’.” An ag­grieved “OK! OK!” can be heard in the back­ground as her hus­band is shooed away. “It’s so com­pli­cated. There are all th­ese things you can’t fore­see. You just get wrapped up in your ca­reer and all the lines get blurred.”

Fol­low­ing the break-up of in­flu­en­tial dream-pop band Galaxie 500 in 1990, twothirds of the group forged a ca­reer on their own terms as hus­band-and-wife duo Da­mon & Naomi. Speak­ing from their home in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, Naomi de­scribes the ex­pe­ri­ence as a “huge loss of in­no­cence”. Though the duo’s big­gest fights are typ­i­cally when they slip into the roles of diva and pro­ducer dur­ing record­ing, ex­pe­ri­ence has served them well.

“In a way, we re­tired,” says Da­mon. “Hav­ing am­bi­tions for this cor­po­rate unit and mak­ing de­ci­sions that are af­fect­ing your life­style and liveli­hood – we’ve never done that kind of thing again. Those are the things that de­stroyed Galaxie 500 and the friend­ships within it. It took us years to go back on the road. Now we only have to please our­selves and scrape by. That’s been the long-term so­lu­tion for us.”

When elec­tronic duo Mat­mos formed in San Fran­cisco 18 years ago, mak­ing mu­sic to­gether be­gan with a pick-up line. “It was hand-in-hand from the beginning,” says Martin Sch­midt, gig­gling. While they can laugh about snip­ing at each other dur­ing sound­checks or ar­gu­ing in the front seat of a van with an­other band for a cap­tive au­di­ence in the back (“Sadly, peo­ple who would not have oth­er­wise seen a gay bitch fight get to see one”), they ap­pre­ci­ate what it has taken to stay to­gether.

“The trou­ble with be­ing in a band with your part­ner is that one part of the world mul­ti­plies the other,” says Drew Daniel. “So if you’re get­ting along re­ally well, it can lead to a greater in­ti­macy on an artis­tic level. But if you start to ar­gue about a bass line, you’re prob­a­bly not hav­ing sex that night. And you can al­ways tell when there’s some­thing be­hind a cer­tain tone of voice. But I think the records where we fought the most are our strong­est.”

The band dy­namic is slightly dif­fer­ent for Low. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, high­school sweet­hearts who met as nine-year-olds, are Mor­mon and take their two chil­dren on tour with them. Though Sparhawk ad­mits it can be dif­fi­cult for the band’s third mem­ber (there have been four since they formed in 1993), he of­ten feels like the odd man out when ten­sion escalates.

“As much as we’re known for mel­low mu­sic, we’re fairly chaotic peo­ple. There were mo­ments where we con­stantly thought, ‘what the hell are we do­ing? Ev­ery­body is wound up or at­tack­ing each other.’ Some­times you look at the per­son across the prac­tice room and you’re amazed at how much your brain can trick you into think­ing they’re your en­emy, says Sparhawk.

“But de­spite the peril that it truly is, it’s an un­speak­able depth to reach in a re­la­tion­ship. It’s worth ev­ery strug­gle and mo­ment that it doesn’t work. The minute you ac­cept there are no bound­aries, it’s fine. Life is in­tense . . . re­la­tion­ships can be too. So it’s harder, but worth it.”

Mar­riage, the hard­est but­ton to but­ton: (from top) Galaxie 500, Wild­birds & Peace­drums, The White Stripes

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